The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

One of the -- I think it's quite helpful to see this in historical terms. Those -- the framers of the US constitution, and in particular the First Amendment to the US constitution, in 1789 were concerned with a world in which printing presses were the means of mass communication. They were concerned with establishing the principle that congress should make no law that would abridge freedom of speech or of the press.

In 1950, when the European Convention on Human Rights was being drafted, the press aren't mentioned. We are concerned with freedom of expression.

My concern is with the conflation, if you like, that occurs with the modernisation of this term "the free press", because whilst in the past it was a good proxy for the means of communication, through the 20th century the picture is a lot more complicated. It comes to mean the distinction between broadcasters, which can be regulated because of the justifications of spectrum scarcity, and the press, which should be somehow free from those obligations that apply to broadcasters.

If we come forward to the current situation, the notion of a particular freedom which applies to a means of delivery rather than to a function like journalism or to speech in general, becomes, in my view, slightly more problematic, and it's at this point really that you have to raise more questions about whether the term is being used in a very useful way.

So in particular, if you take the term "the press" in "the free press", sometimes it's taken to mean printing presses -- the means of reproducing content, messages -- sometimes it's taken to mean journalism, and sometimes it's taken to mean the media in general. If you like, this conflation, I would argue, helps those who want to use this as a general principle.

So the Inquiry has been examining various forms of intervention which could be described as infringing press freedom, and I would like to be concerned with the underlying question of rights to freedom of expression -- are they being impacted? -- rather than with the slightly abstract concern of the principle of the free press being offended. So we need to be mindful of that sense in which the notion of the free press conflates those ideas.

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